With loneliness affecting three out of four Americans, a bill sponsored by Assembly Democrats Andrew Zwicker, Matthew Milam and Vincent Mazzeo requiring the Commissioner of Human Services to study how social isolation and loneliness impact certain populations was signed into law Tuesday.
The law (formerly bill A-5314) requires the Commissioner to assess and report on the nature and frequency of social isolation in New Jersey, specifically among people aged 65 and older, individuals with disabilities, and individuals with mental illness. Other vulnerable populations, including military service members, would be included in the study as deemed appropriate.
“Social isolation is not just a social issue, but a public health concern,” said Zwicker (D-Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex and Somerset). “For elderly and other vulnerable and special populations, isolation can negatively impact health outcomes and lead to premature death. The Commissioner will have the critically important work of studying this issue and how it impacts certain populations. With the research and evidence discovered as a result, we can begin to effectively address social isolation.”
“The Commissioner’s analysis will uncover how often the people in these groups feel isolated, the number and percentage of people in the groups who feel isolated, and the number of people in the group who are more prone to feeling isolated,” said Milam (D-Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland). “We also need to understand the triggers that contribute to such isolation.”
The report prepared by the Commissioner will identify demographic and other characteristics held in common by members of these groups. It must also include a wide array of information, including symptoms and indicators of social isolation, circumstances and situations that contribute to isolation and trends among the socially isolated.
“Many people don’t realize that loneliness really does impact health and wellness,” said Mazzeo (D-Atlantic). “It’s actually a public health issue that is linked to smoking, obesity and the risk of death in older adults.”
The Commissioner’s report will also indicate ways in which other states have addressed issues of social isolation and which resources within our own state are available or could be improved.
The final report will be submitted to the Governor and Legislature, and its findings and recommendations will be published on the Department of Human Services’ website.